I very much enjoy a true “preservation” car that’s deeply original and wears the honest patina of use, love, care, and enjoyment. Yet I’m equally disappointed at a concours, auction, or other events when I see a vehicle presented in the preservation class, category, or definition; when in reality it’s a barely running, smoking, glued together pile of dust and rust that looks like it just surfaced from the Black Lagoon.
This was never more dramatically presented to me than when I was judging an international concours d’elegance a few years ago, and there was a judgment call in the “Preservation” class between a lovely, elegant Lagonda drophead coupe, and a big Cadillac (not a V-16) but a V-8 limo as I recall.
The Lagonda was highly patinated, yet still showed considerable vestige of its original paint. What appeared to be the original chrome and plated surfaces were aged, weathered, and in some cases pitted, but all looked genuine. This True Brit was complete, fired easily, and ran like a Rolex.
The Caddy had so many coats of paint on it, I’m sure it weighed an extra two hundred pounds. The windows were completely purpled (some broken), and any driver would have to hang their head out the window to see.
The engine begrudgingly fired but ran on only some minimal number of its cylinders. For reasons I’m not recalling, that judging team on that day voted to give first place to the Caddy (might have been one-off coachwork or something). I was somewhat incredulous over this call, even though I respect any judging team’s right to deliberate and make its own decisions.
I protested to the chief judge, and then he and I and the judging team leader in question walked out to the field to revisit the two cars and the ranking. The chief judge agreed with me, saying that the Caddy was for all intent and purpose no longer a safely functioning automobile (more of a parts car, or a candidate for full restoration, at most) and disqualified the car from the competition – rightfully awarding First-in-Class to the Lagonda, which was happily able to drive up to the awards ramp to claim its prize (something I doubt the Caddy could have accomplished).
The moral here is that there’s a Grand Canyon of difference between a true preservation car, a decrepit barnfind, and a parts car. The first qualifier might be if “the vehicle is even drivable safely on the road.” From there it comes down to the notions and definitions of “patina” and care, lack of care, abuse, and/or originality.
It amazes me that there is now a book written and published on how to create or match patina (some call it fauxtina) so watch out for clever-looking fake history, age, and wear.
I had a similar discussion with the owner of a Shelby Cobra 289 that goes by the nickname of ‘Dirtbag.” It’s an amazing thing to see; in fact, I’ve driven it. The chrome is rusty, the interior a bit tired, but the car is complete and generally original…save for the paint.
This little Shelby was originally red when built, but sometime back in the day it was repainted in a light yellow, which has since aged, pitted, cracked, surface-rusted, and worn through in several places. I asked the knowledgeable owner why he won’t repaint it and he said “I won’t touch it so as to preserve all the original patina.”
I get the point he’s trying to make, but the reality is once the car was repainted in a non-original color, there’s no original paint, or truly authentic patina, to preserve. If he likes the look of it and enjoys telling the story, that’s fine, it’s his car, but preservation is no longer an issue.
A more positive defining example is a 1953 XK-120 MC FHC that I saw at auction that still wears its original, factory-applied, soft Willow Green paint, chrome, glass, and most of its original interior. Every book, manual, service receipt, and sticker from this car’s well-lived life is present and accounted for. Of course, the car fires on the button and would surely be a joy to own and drive. This magnificent Jag has clearly been lovingly used, enjoyed, and maintained with a constant eye toward preserving its originality. That’s preservation.
It is true that any car can be fixed or restored, although perhaps not all of them should be. It is a fact that any/every vehicle is only original once. A car can be restored to authentic paints, finishes, fabrics, plating – which may then again be as close as possible to original spec but not original.
It is my contention that when a vehicle is truly deeply original and still handsome as such, it should be shared and celebrated. And when it’s properly and sensitively restored to its original and authentic specification and “day built” materials and finishes, let’s call it restored. And when something is a neglected, abused old car, let’s be equally clear about that too.
What are your thoughts? Comment below as I would love to hear your views.